He is a man on a mission. Dr Jaipal Singh Gill is the executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), and, lives matter – not just animal lives – but all lives, matter emphatically to him.
It’s not possible to separate the man from his work after all, his work is what makes him tick. At the helm of the iconic animal welfare name since 2016, Dr Gill is 37-years of age; married; a vegetarian; has an older brother; really enjoys music and is into Yoga. He is also a Volunteer Police Officer, a qualified veterinarian but above all, he is dedicated to improving the lives and welfare of animals.
Yes, he’s had pets (past tense here). As a child, there were guinea pigs, terrapins, dogs and fishes at the start of his lifelong love of animals. Except cats. “My mother said no cats,” Dr Gill remarks. His favourite dog, a Maltese of 14 years passed away back in 2011 of a heart problem. He and his wife (“hugely passionate about animals”) have taken to fostering animals when time permits ever since.
Life’s Chosen Path
The lead up to his tenure at the SPCA involved several factors. First, his passion for social work (at old folks home, etc) and then, an inclination towards societal issues kept him looking into the welfare side of life – for both animals and people.
His background and experience in animal welfare will put paid to any doubts raised before that: from the World Animal Protection (Bangkok, Thailand), Soi Dog Foundation (Phuket, Thailand), Animal Aid Unlimited (Rajasthan, India), and Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Singapore), and that is just part of his internship experiences while in vet school.
It was at the National University of Singapore in 2004 and his involvement in life sciences that saw him making inroads into the animal welfare arena. Dr Gill says: “Animal welfare wasn’t really on the agenda so I started a Students Animal Welfare Group.”
He adds: “The whole bunch of us – at least 10 other students – got involved in running numerous animal welfare activities. At that time, we got involved in the domestic animal scene, volunteering work etc.”
There, a better understanding around law and policies of the day that could contribute towards the betterment of all, also made him realise that: “There are many things that could be done.” Upon graduation, he knew his path in life was set and he knew where he was going.
Providence Had A Hand In It
Of him hitching up with the SPCA, he says: “The timing was perfect.” One day after lunch, back in 2007, he spied a small and inconspicuous ad by the SPCA for an animal inspector. Providence must have smiled at him, as he called to apply immediately and, after an interview… walked out with a job on hand.
His interviewer was none other than the doyen Deirdre Moss, an animal champion if ever there was one. Till today, he keeps in touch with his good friend and ex-boss, and her field of volunteer work in Australia. Dr Gill credits her as his mentor and is ever appreciative of his time spent under her tutelage.
Of the job itself, It was a baptism of fire: “Looking back, I must admit, it was a tough job. I came away with respect for the job of an SPCA Inspector – seeing animal cruelty on a daily basis, really gets to you.”
Though tough going mentally and physically, he adds: “There was no time to think during the day, but… in the middle of the night… you ask yourself, ‘Could I have done better?’” He realises there were lots of self-doubts: “But you learn to stay positive. The rescues keep you going – at least, I have that to fall on.”
After a year, he wanted to better equip himself in his role: “I could upgrade myself further in terms of my animal welfare knowledge, etc. I wanted to upgrade myself and want to come back to do better for animal welfare.” So it was back to school. He completed his Honours at the University of Melbourne and was back home by 2009.
When in Australia, he conducted animal welfare research with baby calves in the dairy industry, even an Orang Utan project (effect of visitors on animals), and even a chicken farm project. Upon his return, he re-joined the SPCA as Assistant Manager of Operations and supported the animal welfare services. The coverage of his field gave him wider exposure – from animal shelters to investigation and disease control.
He did this for two years after which he realised he could do much more for the animals if he continued with his studies. He got his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at the University of Melbourne four years later. He adds: “This is right, I love what I was doing.”
It was then back to the fold at the SPCA in 2016 as Acting Executive Director. “There were lots of different options, including work in Australia, but I wanted to come back to finish my work here.”
Back On The Fast Track
That year, the SPCA moved to Sungei Tengah, and it hit him front and centre. “There were financial challenges as we had to build up from scratch – there was nothing but grassland when we took over the land.” Sparing no effort, their staff members rolled up their sleeves, and then: “We were back to focusing on animal welfare issues.”
“One of the first things we looked at was the pet population.” The swelling numbers of abandoned animals were of grave concern especially for the animal shelters across the Island. “We wanted to nip the problem in the bud, concrete things had to be done.” Sterilisation was one big part of the answer. The other, microchip rules that were put in place by the government to tighten pet dog ownership, to discourage the dumping of animals.
The microchip rules took bite within a few short years and produced a clear decline in dog abandonment. With schemes like Project ADORE and the Trap-Neuter-Release-Manage programme funded by the then Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA), Dr Gill is confident that the population numbers will decline further. “This should accelerate over time, so that the numbers will be down. When the shelters are getting emptier over time, that means we are tackling the problem.”
However, as he improves one area, he notices another coming up – animal training. “Over time, the science behind animal psychology and training has evolved. Our knowledge of training has changed.” This is SPCA’s latest cause for concern. He says: “With the advancement in science, we need to let go of some old animal training methods. Humane and force-free rewards-based approach should be the default.”
“Hung, to instil fear? We want to get rid of the most cruel of practices. We’re saying: There is an alternative.” Training takes time, and he acknowledges that owner’s who send their dogs for training, their expectations too, have to be moderated for this to happen.
Be Kind To Animals
SPCA’s role has been always clear to him – to end animal cruelty – to be kind to animals. While there are long term and short term challenges towards this end, the future lies in taking up root causes.
“Before you get a pet, you must be armed with the knowledge to care for it.” Dr Gill and his fellow staffers will be looking towards this educational component for potential pet buyers soon. “We can do better for the animals.”
Law and policy-making is another important arena and they plan to do further work with the different ministries. Make no mistake, the SPCA is for all creatures big and small. Outside the pet sector, the lives for fresh seafood – from fish, eels, even prawns at the supermarket can be improved. “There must be a better way to handle this. But it is heartening to see that people today are more concerned and aware of what’s going on. Society is changing.”
He praises ACRES (Animal Concerns Research & Education) and notes: “We live in an urbanised environment and human and wildlife skirmishes will arise from time to time.” Yes, from otters to macaque’s, more such conflicts are to be expected.
On improving the pet sector, there are two main issues he’s looking at: Raising the standards of the pet industry, such as boarding facilities, and the ongoing educational programmes. “There will be a strong focus on animal health and welfare with SPCA involved in setting the standards of animal welfare,” Dr Gill adds.
Although the work on the animal front is very emotional and closest to his heart, he makes time for other work too – as a Volunteer Police Officer. “I’ve been doing this for three years already. I do enjoy the role. It provides me an opportunity to give back in different ways.”
On the personal front, his first thought is of his family. Not one born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he is grateful that his parents gave him the opportunity to do what he wanted most. Till today both his parents (above 60 years of age) are still working. “I only managed to do this because of the strong support I had from them, and my wife.”
He wants to be involved in work where he contributes to possible lasting change. On the agenda he sets for himself: “I want to keep updating myself. Our views change as we get more exposed, and I want to continue to upgrade myself – there’s so much more to learn.”
When asked the hardest question in the two-hour-long interview: Describe yourself in three words, his answer is much like the man himself – real and straightforward. He says: “Passionate. Committed. Fallible.”
Yes, passionate. Yes, committed. Fallible? Being very human, he recognises that he is fallible and is therefore very critical of himself. Haunted with questions like: How can I do better, what needs to be done better? He says: “The work that my team and I do has to be meaningful.”
Parting words from Dr Gill: “I am very privileged and honoured to be in this position and I have a fantastic team with me at the SPCA. We get to do positive things – we can, ultimately, see a brighter future for animal welfare.”
Text by: Eileen Chan
Photo by Aaron Wong
* This article first appeared in Pets Magazine, August 2020